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This story is rated 'spicy' and may contain racy or violent material. Click to read this content!
Ressa nearly lost her nerve when the housekeeper opened to the door to her, and there was a long awkward moment where she didn't know what to say.Here is a short excerpt to whet your appetite:
"May I help you with something?" the housekeeper prompted. She didn't say it unkindly, but Ressa still felt her stomach churn.
"I need to see Bai," she finally blurted. "I'm... er... Ressa." She felt at odds with herself - Ressa, Head of Files, or Guildswoman Ressa, or Ressa-implicated-for-murder, or Ressa-who-kissed-Bai-and-shouldn't-have... they all felt like different faces, and she wasn't sure which one to wear here. "I'm Head of Files," she added impulsively. "With Bai. At the Licensing Office."
The housekeeper actually looked amused. "I know who you are," she said mildly. "I'm not expecting Bai back for another few tenticks, but you may wait for him here."
"I'll wait," Ressa said weakly, and the housekeeper opened the door and led Ressa into the entrance hall.
Ressa followed her numbly, wondering how much she knew; sometimes house servants were intimate friends, and sometimes the were simply in the right place to hear things. Some of the best gossip she got came filtered through house staff.
The housekeeper didn't elaborate, and Ressa was shown to a seat in the library, which bore little resemblance to the chaos that it had been in the last time she was there. It seemed like a fitting change - she had been drugged and confused the last time she was in the room, and the chaos of books had echoed the chaos in her own head. Now, there wasn't chaos, just frightened clarity that she was clinging to: she had to tell Bai about Urti's betrayal, and about the key bits of information that had come with it. She had to do it before her nerve failed her, and the shame and guilt overwhelmed her.
She accepted the offer of a cup of tea from the housekeeper, which was made, served, and went cold, untasted, before she finally heard the scuffle of footsteps at the front entrance. Ressa rose to her feet with her heart pounding in her throat.
Bai came in ferociously, and didn't notice her at once, slamming a book down on the table by the door and nearly knocking over the umbrella stand that Ressa remembered with chagrin from her last visit.
"You have a visitor," the housekeeper told him mildly, greeting him with a cup of tea. Bai ignored the tea, and saw Ressa standing in the doorway of the library for the first time. Ressa braced herself for the expected expression of concern... and was not ready for the flash of raw anger that passed over his expressive face.
"Leave us," Bai growled, and for a moment Ressa thought he was talking to her.
The housekeeper nodded, and vanished into the dining hall, taking the tea with her.
"Bai..." Ressa started, wholly uncertain how to continue.
He shouldered past her coldly, going straight to a cabinet in the library to pour himself a little wooden glass of something strong-smelling. He didn't offer her a drink, and he didn't look at her again, tipping the liquid back into his throat.
The resolve that had carried Ressa this far quailed in the face of this unexpected reaction. A small, uncertain part of her wondered if the taint of what Urti had done with her - to her - was somehow obvious, if she really was the damaged merchandise she had begun to believe she was.
The tiny spark of anger that had served in her confrontation with Urti was buried deep, somewhere in her stomach below her fear, but when she looked for it, Ressa found it, and could clench her fists at her side. She didn't deserve this. Bai was her ally, and there was hope. Clinging to that spark, fanning it with her reminder, Ressa opened her mouth to begin.
"Don't," Bai stopped her. "Don't say anything. I know."
The ember of anger extinguished at the chilly tone of his voice, flattening beneath the shame that washed over her.
"What do you know?" she had to ask. Her voice sounded tiny to her ears.
He turned and looked at her at last, and the hurt and anger in his face made her chest tighten. "I know everything," he spat. "I know you've been sleeping with Urti, I know that you've been making him keep it quiet. I know that you were with the other victims of the railrage murders, that you've been... shards of the sundered times, is there anyone you haven't slept with? Was I next, or was I going to be the only one you could keep your legs closed to?"
White hot rage flared from the dying ember of anger. "Sleeping with Urti? Is that what he called it?" Clearly, Urti had gone straight from her apartment to Bai's office, and spun him a fanciful tale of half-truths and falsehoods.
"What would you call it?" Bai demanded. "Business as usual? I trusted you. I loved you. But I don't even know you."
"Clearly you don't," Ressa spat back at him. "What Urti did was no better than rape, Bai. He's the one behind this mess. He blackmailed me, he's neck deep in the blackmail of you, he's why there hasn't been an investigation into our conflicting testimony. He's been playing us for fools all along."
Bai's face was a conflict of anguish and mistrust.
"Urti is jealous of you, Bai. He envies your privilege, he's insecure about the fact that you helped him get his position, he hates your brother... and he's being manipulated by someone else with deep pockets and long fingers." Ressa sucked in her breath. Of all the ways she had imagined this conversation going, she had not expected to be yelling at him in his library. The rage ebbed away, leaving exhaustion and pain. She couldn't expect Bai to believe her over Urti - the monitor had been Bai's friend since they were in early forms together. She and Bai - they enjoyed a warm working relationship and one stolen kiss, which didn't add up to an advantage. Maybe if she'd gotten to Bai before Urti had fabricated his version of events...
"I don't know how to convince you," she said candidly. "The evidence against me is - gods of the Purists - I'd believe it myself, if I was on the other side of the justification form." Ressa couldn't decide if she was glad or sorry that Bai hadn't offered her a drink. She wanted something - anything - to numb the ache inside, and something to do with her hands, but she already felt sick and off balance. "I know Urti was your friend - or that you thought he was. I thought he was my friend, too." She had to fight back tears, knowing they would look manipulative under the circumstances.
Bai looked as sick as she felt, and as unsure. He poured himself another drink but didn't taste it. "Did you sleep with my brother?" he asked plaintively.
Ressa swallowed in surprise and closed her eyes. "Yes," she admitted.
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